By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
Hickory High boys’ basketball program has benefitted from some of Mercer County’s cage coaching greats — Frannie Webster, Steve Garay and Nick Cannone. However Hornets’ hoops enjoyed, arguably, its greatest success under Bill Dzuricsko.
During the mid-1990’s Dzuricsko directed Hickory to 3 consecutive PIAA Class AAA western regional championship games and an aggregate 72-20 won-lost ledger. His overall record (13 years, 202-134) is the best in program annals.
So it only made sense when Geoff Evans stepped down following the 2013-14 season, Dzuricsko decided to return to Hickory’s helm.
“It feels good,” Dzuricsko, 54, related. “This thing, all of a sudden, came up, and it seemed like the right thing to do. Last year I thought Geoff did a fine job with the kids, he got them back to the playoffs. I was hoping he’d be in it for the long haul, but unfortunately, things didn’t work out.”
Evans’ era ended after a 16-6 overall (11-5 Region 5-AAA) season concluded with a District 10 Tournament opening-round setback to Strong Vincent. Owing to a career change and a growing family, Evans resigned.
Ironically, Evans etched his name indelibly during Dzuricsko’s mid-1992-95 drive that ultimately was short-circuited in the Final Four by Valley, Beaver Falls and Blackhawk, respectively. Evans ended with 1,968 points.
Dzuricsko delineated Hickory’s hoops history of coaches, including the aforementioned as well as Phil O’Mahen (under whom he served as a JV coach for 6 seasons, beginning in 1981) and Ed McGlumphy. However he cited Westminster College’s legendary Ron Galbreath as his mentor.
“That was ... where you learn, if you don’t have as much talent you try to out-smart (opponents) in a different way,” mused Dzuricsko, who played for the Titans from 1977-80. “And I think that’s how we’ll try to approach things.
“If we started the season tomorrow we would have one returning letterman,” Dzuricsko noted.
“Schematically, the system I’m comfortable with I learned, pretty much, at Westminster: Defensively, multiple looks; offensively, I prefer structure to free-lance, but we’ll just have to find out what offense will fit the talent.
“I’d like to think I’ve gained some experience over the years,” Dzuricsko said. “I’ve coached some younger kids (7th-, 8th-grade boys, 5th-, 6th-grade girls basketball, junior high girls’ soccer), so you learn to simplify things and we’ll try to use that. But I think ... watching the (NBA Finals and 4-time champion) San Antonio Spurs ... in order to be successful you have to be good at the fundamentals.”
Having met with players and setting a summer schedule, Dzuricsko also assembled a staff: Zach Sarver (JVs), part-time assistant Bruce Bittler, Josh Ward (9th grade) and Marcus Anderson (7th/8th). Sarver served as a Sharpsville assistant under Jim Smiley the last couple seasons, and Bittler was on the bench assisting Hickory girls’ head coach Jeanette Whitehead for several seasons.
For his part, Dzuricsko is not reflecting on his past stint, only looking ahead.
“I was apprehensive and hesitant,” he said when asked why he applied, “but I did get a lot of positive support from the staff, students and community. ... and I appreciate the support from everybody.
“This past year’s group (2014) was the first I coached (as 9th-graders). These next two (classes) are kids I have coached, so they were supportive in encouraging me to get back into it.”
In addition to Dzuricsko coaching 9th-graders for 3 seasons under Cannone, unbeknown to many he has been coaching year ’round, almost non-stop (soccer, basketball and track & field). Last winter was his first “off” season from basketball.
“My role was taxi-cab driver for my daughter (Brianna), who’s involved in dance, baton, singing, saxophone. But she’ll be driving this year,” Dzuricsko quipped.
Having recently completed the season as an assistant to his wife, Barb, and Mark Slezak as a track & field assistant (he’s also a respected official) and an afternoon filled with tutoring students for final exams, Dzurcisko deeply breathed, then forecasted the 2014-15 Hickory hoopsters:
“We’re gonna give it a shot.”